You’ve hit the wall. Your mind is empty. Or worse, frantic, a pack of wild hamsters free-styling inside multi-colored wheels in a tiny room. Did I lock the door this morning? This project sucks. What about … ? No, that won’t work. Is it lunchtime yet? Need. Moar. Coffee. Let’s be realistic: A creative block, whether you’re a designer or writer, is going to happen. It’s just part of the creative process. We all love being in the zone, when the ideas flow, when our critical inner voice shuts up long enough for us to play with an idea or two. But when you’re not in the zone, it feels impossible to get there.
But we signed up for this gig. And unless we want to become a chartered accountant or urban farmer, we need a way to pay the bills. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of advice on how to overcome a block. One of the most studied is the relationship between physical activity and creativity.
Which makes sense. Some of the best ideas pop into our heads when we’re busy, physically engaged (walking, running, cycling) and either lost in thought or totally engrossed in the task at hand. Especially when we think we’re not thinking at all, like when we’re in the shower, in the garden or playing with kids.
So what's going on when we're not moving? It’s not your imagination - your desk really is sucking the creativity out of you. It’s bad enough that sitting has been hailed as the new smoking, but it apparently also drops our IQ in as little as 20 minutes. Awesome…. Hurray for email and cubicle farms! It’s easy to distract ourselves with meaningless tasks because it’s too hard to think.
Which is a problem, because most projects require some deep thought, where part of your unconscious brain is mulling over the information, the angles and your unique take on it. Graham Wallas, in “The Art of Thought”, referred to this stage as “Incubation”. After reviewing our notes and completing our research, we should go on to other tasks for a period of time. Like cooking, we’re letting the flavors marry to see if something new is born from the combination of ingredients.
In a world of fast ideas and even faster execution, that “Incubation” phase is often the one that suffers.
That’s where the exercise comes in. Daily physical activity, instead of tuckering you out, actually boosts your mood and improves creativity. It floods your brain with fresh blood, oxygen and endorphins. Shooting hoops or going for a run, where we think we’re not thinking about much at all, allows part of our brain to work furiously to solve creative problems.
So stay positive and look for inspiration. Review your notes, creative brief, any existing drafts, mood boards—whatever you’ve got. And then do something totally different. Let the ideas coalesce and germinate somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind. Get your ass out of your chair for 20 to 40 minutes, then, after you’ve recharged, get to work. And stop worrying about being creative. When you get back in the zone, you’ll be too busy working to be thinking about the creative process.